This School Board Owes Trustee Kate Baggott and All of Her Constituents an Apology
“To think is sacred; let every person think freely!
“To express what you think is sacred; let every person express his thought freely! If you do this, you prove that you are a conscientious and a moral human being!
“If you don’t do this, you just declare yourself being fascist!”
―Mehmet Murat ildan, Turkish playwright and writer, world-renown for his work, including his play on the legendary activist and advocate for non-violent protest against oppressors, Mahatma Gandhi
A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted February 16th, 2020 on Niagara At Large
Let’s revisit for a second or so more the point that Mehmet Murat ildan makes about living and operating in a world where we can express our thoughts freely.
Is there anyone out there, aside from the kind of person who would support a politician like Donald Trump, who doesn’t believe there something sacred about that?
If you truly believe that the right to express ourselves freely should be a guiding principle for living in a healthy, functioning democracy, then the answer to any question about how sacred or sacrosanct that is should be a no-brainer.
It should be, but apparently it isn’t such an easy question to answer these days at the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN).
When I opened a local newspaper in Niagara and first read the story a few weeks back about Kate Baggott, the duly elected member of the DSBN’s Board of Trustees, who has been barred by her own board from taking her seat at the upcoming February 27th board meeting, I thought; “No, this simply can’t be. Trump isn’t up here calling the shots yet.”
According to the story, Baggott, who ran in a field of 11 candidates in the 2018 municipal elections and received enough votes to win one of the four seats on the board for the St. Catharines and Niagara area, was barred from participating in this month’s meeting by a majority of her fellow board members, under the watch of high-priced board administrators who weren’t elected by anybody.
Baggott was barred or “suspended,” as some have put it, for – get this – having the nerve to respond to and apparently engage in a bit of back and forth discussion with a concerned parent in another area under the board’s jurisdiction.
A trustee from that other area then reportedly filed a ‘code of conduct’ complaint against Baggott for engaging with a parent outside of her “territory,” according to media accounts. Ergo, some sort of territorial imperative kicked in and others on the board moved in on her like a pack of hyenas.
Call me out of step with the times, but a couple of decades back, while I was still a reporter in the newsroom at The St. Catharines Standard and there were good people like Bill Hodgson and Ronna Katzman still sitting as trustees on this school board, elected trustees simply made it their business to respond to concerns of parents who had children in schools operating under the board’s jurisdiction.
There was none of this; ‘Oh, I better not communicate with that parent because even though that parent has children going to one of the schools in my board’s jurisdiction, they are in Grimsby or Lincoln, and here I am in St. Catharines or Niagara-on-the-Lake. Any move by me to reach out to that parent might violate some board policy.’
Perhaps I am missing something, but I have yet to hear from or read a note from a single fellow citizens who hasn’t expressed disappointment or disgust over the way Kate Boggatt, a trustee elected by people in the St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake, is being treated by this public school board.
It is beginning to look like you would have to be another member of this board or someone who has traveled through a twilight zone, to an alternative universe where bats are sleeping upside down and flying monkeys are chasing after little girls and their dogs to but into any idea that the way this board trustee is being treated is a good idea.
What a way for a public institution that is on the front lines of being a role model for our kids to conduct business.
What a lesson in democracy this is for young people.
As the upcoming February 25th Board of Trustees meeting approaches, members of the board were sent an open note about this disgraceful matter from St. Catharines citizen Ed Smith, a community activist and retired Canadian Armed Forces officer, who knows a thing or two about a publicly funded body – in his case, the body was made up of a combination of now former administrators and former board members at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) – trying to take punitive action against him for raising concerns about the way that board was doing business with millions of our tax dollars.
In Ed Smith’s case, the Conservation Authority launched a lawsuit against him that was eventually dismissed by a provincial court.
And in dismissing the lawsuit, Ontario Superior Court Justice James Ramsay, in his November, 2017 ruling, made a comment that members of this school board might do well to consider, even if the circumstances around Ed Smith exercising his rights in a democracy, and Kate Baggott exercising hers, may not be entirely the same.
“I share the defendant’s (Ed Smith’s) disappointment at this treatment by the Authority,” the judge wrote in his decision. “A private citizen, he raised questions about the governance of the Authority. He was met with a public accusation of forgery and the threat of litigation from ‘his own government, ‘as he put it, together with a demand that he issue a written apology, undertake never again to publish ‘the document’… and reveal his sources.
“There are many places in the world where I might expect such a thing to happen,” Judge Ramsay concluded, “but not in our beloved dominion.”
Not in our beloved dominion, indeed!
Here is the note that Ed Smith recently sent to the trustees at the District School Board of Niagara –
DSBN Board members,
On February 20th, you will re-consider your actions in regards to the sanction you imposed on Trustee (Kate) Baggott at the January 28 Board meeting.
As you might surmise, the public interest in your decision is going to be extremely high. My hope is that those of you who stand by your decision to sanction Trustee Baggott will have the courage to speak as to why you have voted for these sanctions.
I further hope that those who vote to change their votes will demonstrate the courage to explain why they have changed their minds.
This matter is of extreme and long lasting importance. The public has a right to hear from those who have voted to remove our elected official.
Silence will speak volumes, but if you choose to remain silent you will have to allow for conclusions to be reached that are uninformed by your words.
If you are convinced of the rightness of your actions then please allow the public to hear your justification. I imagine you are well aware of how the public has viewed your actions thus far.
- Ed Smith, Citizen
On February 13th, a Niagara-based citizens watchdog group called A Better Niagara, posted the following on its Facebook page –
A controversial decision to ban an elected trustee, Kate Baggott, from a school board meeting for violating a “practice” that actually doesn’t exist in policy, will be revisited by the District School Board of Niagara during a special meeting called for Thursday, February 20th. Anyone who wishes to speak at the meeting must register today by emailing Karen Bellamy: firstname.lastname@example.org .
(A Better Niagara will post) more information about the meeting as it becomes available.
To visit A Better Niagara’s Facebook page, click on – https://www.facebook.com/betterniagara/
A Footnote from Doug Draper Niagara At Large –
Let’s hope that those who sit on DSBN’s Board of Trustees and are responsible for all of the outrageous nonsense that has been dumped on Kate Baggott take advantage of the upcoming February 20th board meeting to dial it all back and cap it off with an apology.
Should they choose not to, perhaps the voters should deliver them the lesson in democracy they so obviously need in the next municipal elections.
Those trustees who may see that as a threat they shouldn’t take seriously, I would remind them of two things.
First, the 2022 municipal elections aren’t really all that far away, if you think about it, and second, they might want to remember how it went during the last municipal elections for former Niagara regional chair Al Caslin and the majority of those who sat on his council and went along with his agenda.
We are now living in times where possibly more people than ever before will be watching how their school board trustees come down on this matter at the February 2020 meeting, and if it was anything like Caslin’s regional council and the years leading up to the 2018 municipal elections, they will remember.
Here are a few links to stories that have recently been posted in the local media about this issue –
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